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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Back to Part One

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Merian C. Cooper and New Announcements (continued)


Merian Cooper and Argosy

Technicolor was a process that had intrigued Merian Cooper for some time and he took an active role in Pioneer Pictures, a company formed to promote the new three-strip colour process. Pioneer eventually merged with Selznick International, and it was while he was then reunited with David Selznick that Cooper began to think about reactivating his connections with John Ford (the two had first collaborated when Cooper was at RKO). He and Ford formed an independent production company called Argosy. During the process of forming the new company, the pair got their feet wet in the area of independent production by developing a couple of properties with independent producer Walter Wanger. The two films that resulted were Stagecoach and The Long Voyage Home, both directed by Ford but neither included any formal credit for Cooper. Then with the coming of World War II, both Cooper and Ford found themselves in the armed forces, so further development of Argosy went on the back burner.

After the war, Cooper and John Ford became much more active in getting Argosy off the ground. After negotiating with both United Artists and Monogram, a distribution deal for Argosy's productions was struck with RKO. This would later be replaced by an arrangement with Republic Pictures. The first Argosy production was The Fugitive, an adaptation of Graham Greene's "The Power and the Glory". Starring Henry Fonda and directed by Ford, the film was an earnest effort but unsuccessful financially, putting Argosy in a defensive position from which it never fully recovered. Still, despite the difficulties, Cooper and Ford were able to produce a number of excellent films over the next eight years before Argosy was formally dissolved during post production on The Searchers. During that period, Argosy's productions also included: Fort Apache, 3 Godfathers, Mighty Joe Young, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Wagon Master, Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, and The Sun Shines Bright.

Ever a man with interest in technical innovation as his involvement with stop action animation and Technicolor proved, Cooper also became interested in the new Cinerama widescreen process and was both producer and a director for the process's first offering, This Is Cinerama in 1952. He later had producer or co-producer credit on two other Cinerama films, Seven Wonders of the World (1956) and Best of Cinerama (1963). At age 70, the latter represented his last active film credit. Cooper died ten years later, in 1973.

From the Argosy period, five films are available on DVD with at least two others known to be in the works. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Mighty Joe Young (1949, see review below) are both available from Warner Bros. in very attractive transfers. Rio Grande (1950) and The Quiet Man (1952) are both available in Collector's Editions from Artisan, although the latter is not recommended. It should be noted that both have now reverted to the control of Paramount and hopefully both will be re-issued with superior transfers. The Searchers (1956) is available from Warner Bros. in an acceptable transfer, but a substantial restoration is underway which should yield a definitive new two-disc release in 2006. The first appearance of Fort Apache (1948) and 3 Godfathers (1949) on DVD is also expected in 2006. Wagon Master (1950) is another, though lesser, possibility for DVD release next year.


Mighty Joe Young

Mighty Joe Young (1949)
(released on DVD by Warner Bros. on November 22nd, 2005)

Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/B+


Merian Cooper made a third trip to the giant gorilla well in 1949. Once again Ernest Schoedsack directed and Ruth Rose wrote the screenplay. Actor Robert Armstrong also returned, this time playing another showman named Max O'Hara. Max is planning to travel to Africa to gather attractions for an exotic nightclub that he hopes to open in Hollywood. In Africa, he discovers Joe Young, a giant gorilla so named by Jill Young who has raised Joe from a baby. After an altercation with Gregg Johnson, a young rodeo performer who works for O'Hara, Jill agrees to come to America with Joe so that Joe can be the main attraction in O'Hara's show. Of course, things don't work out nearly as planned.

Although there's a lot here that's the same in spirit as what occurred in King Kong, Mighty Joe Young manages to stand on its own merit due to an engaging story, an enthusiastic performance from Terry Moore as Jill and likable ones from Robert Armstrong and Ben Johnson (Gregg), and some great stop-motion animation work in bringing Joe Young to life. In this instance, credit is due to Ray Harryhausen here working on his first feature film. He was hired by Willis O'Brien as an assistant, but apparently ended up doing much of the actual animation under O'Brien's supervision. Mighty Joe Young was O'Brien's last major animation effort and he won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects. Notable among the many different and complex effects were a nightclub rampage, a jailbreak, and the climactic sequence in which Joe saves Jill from a burning orphanage building, a sequence that was tinted orangy-red in what was principally a black and white film (although according to Harryhausen, the sequence was actually shot in two-colour Technicolor).

Warners' full screen presentation looks really good. It's quite crisp and clear with excellent contrast, and looks better than King Kong. It's also virtually free of visible damage and speckles. The mono sound is in good shape also, being free of virtually all hiss or distortion. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. The supplements include an excellent audio commentary by Ray Harryhausen, Ken Ralston, and Terry Moore. The three interact together well, and the result is both informative and entertaining. Two featurettes are presented also, one focusing on a conversation between Harryhausen and effects experts the Chiodo Brothers, and the other on Harryhausen demonstrating some stop motion techniques with one of the Joe Young miniatures. The film's theatrical trailer rounds out the disc. Recommended.


The Latest Classic Release Announcements

The majority of the new announcements are for items coming in 2006. Warners looks to be continuing its prolific efforts while Fox will be debuting a new series of classic films called Cinema Classics, although it's not clear what this means for the Studio Classics line. Paramount's slate for the start of the year looks very light on classic films, although there are some vintage TV series being offered. Universal is in the usual groove, recycling stuff they've given us before with narry a sign of the classic Paramount material that they continue to hoard. Sony's MGM arm has rescheduled the previously delayed Pink Panther films, but otherwise classic releases are few and far between for both the MGM and Columbia arms of Sony at least early in the new year. Specific announcements follow, alphabetically by studio. The Classic Coming Attractions Database has been updated accordingly.

Alpha offers its usual collection of material on January 31st. There will be 30 new releases featuring a blend of TV compilations, westerns (Ken Maynard, Lane Chandler, Tim McCoy), mysteries, and the serial Mystery Squadron. See the database for the complete list.

Flicker Alley's proposed release of F.W. Murnau's Phantom has been delayed until February in order to include some new supplementary materials that have become available.

Fox finally comes up with some classic musicals with the February 21st release of Weekend in Havana (1941, with Alice Faye) and Pin-Up Girl (1944, with Betty Grable). They'll be joined by Daddy Long Legs (1955, with Fred Astaire). The latter, originally intended to be a Studio Classics release, will be presented in 2.55 anamorphic widescreen and will also feature a commentary by film historian Ken Barnes and Ava Astaire Mackenzie. These musicals will be part of a new Fox line called Marquee Musicals. The inclusion of a trailer for The Gang's All Here with one of these first releases suggests that that particular film may well be a future release in the new line. Volume One, Season One of the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is coming out February 21st. In other Fox news, February 7th should bring the delayed Julia (1977, with Jane Fonda) and a two-disc version of Cleopatra (1963, with Elizabeth Taylor). My previous speculation that the January 31st release of Something to Sing About was a Legend Films version of the James Cagney film was incorrect. It's actually a recent film produced by the Billy Graham organization. Another of their products, The Hiding Place (1975, with Julie Harris), will however also appear then. Looking ahead to March, the next wave of Film Noir will appear on March 7th and will include Fallen Angel (1945, with Alice Faye), No Way Out (1950, with Richard Widmark), and The House on Telegraph Hill (1952, with Richard Basehart). March 14th will bring Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962, with Red Buttons) and a couple of lesser biblical epics - David and Bathsheba (1951, with Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward) and The Story of Ruth (1960, with Elana Eden). March 21st will see the appearance of The Shirley Temple Collection: Volume Three, which will include Dimples (1936), The Little Colonel (1935), and The Littlest Rebel (1935). Finally, Fox has plans to offer up its six Laurel and Hardy films from the 1940s on DVD in 2006. The films, possibly offered in two groups of three, are: Great Guns (1941), A-Haunting We Will Go (1942), The Dancing Masters (1943), Jitterbugs (1943), The Big Noise (1944), and The Bullfighters (1945), but there are no details as to specific timing.

Geneon-Pioneer will release a whole raft of public domain titles on November 22nd. The titles are: Almost a Bride (1949, with Shirley Temple), The Baby (1973, with Ruth Roman), Bad Man's River (1972, with Lee Van Cleef), The Big Combo (1955, with Cornel Wilde), Captain Apache (1971, with Lee Van Cleef), Code 7 Victim 5 (1964, with Lex Barker), Cover-Up (1949, with Dennis O'Keefe), The Crooked Way (1949, with John Payne), Cry of Battle (1963, with Van Heflin), Don't Trust Your Husband (1948, with Fred MacMurray), Five Savage Men (1970, with Michele Carey), Fort Algiers (1953, with Yvonne De Carlo), God's Little Acre (1958, with Robert Ryan), Have a Nice Funeral, My Friend (1970, with Gianni Garko), Horror Express (1972, with Christopher Lee), House of Seven Corpses (1973, with John Ireland), The Mad Bomber (1973, with Vince Edwards), Men in War (1957, with Robert Ryan), A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1979, with David Niven), Pancho Villa (1972, with Telly Savalas), Penny Gold (1973, with James Booth), Psychomania (1973, with George Sanders), The Tiger and the Flame (1952), A Town Called Hell (1973, with Robert Shaw), Without Honor (1949, with Laraine Day). The films will also be released in four box sets of six titles each on December 13th, under the headings of Cinema Deluxe Action Pack, Cinema Deluxe Drama Pack, Cinema Deluxe Terror Pack, and Cinema Deluxe Western Pack. These sorts of releases are always a gamble, but there are a few interesting titles there that at $6 a pop might be worth a flyer. The six packs sell for about $22 online.

On January 24th, Image celebrates Black History with a couple of releases - a recent documentary about the progress of black actors on screen (Small Steps, Big Strides) and the four-disc box set, Treasures of Black Cinema, which includes The Devil's Daughter, Gang War, The Bronze Buckaroo, and Up in the Air, all originally released in 1939 or 1940. Other Image offerings will be The Day of the Dolphin (1973, with George C. Scott) on February 7th and The Naked City: Volume 3 (12 episodes of the TV series) on March 14th.

Mackinac Media will be introducing an animation series called "The Golden Age of Cartoons". The first offering, coming on December 13th, will be Popeye: Original Classics from the Fleischer Studio. It will contain 10 cartoons digitally remastered from 35mm material: Little Swee Pea (1936), I'm In the Army Now (1936), I Never Change My Altitude (1937), A Date to Skate (1938), Customers Wanted (1939), The Paneless Window Washer (1937), Me Musical Nephews (1942), Popeye Meets Sinbad (1936 - colour), Popeye Meets Ali Baba (1937 - colour), and Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp (1939 - colour). The second offering, also on December 13th, will be Attack of the 30s Characters. It will contain 16 cartoons remastered from 35mm and 16mm material: Congo Jazz - starring Foxy (1930), In Wonderland - starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (1931), Bars and Stripes - starring Krazy Kat (1931), Lady, Play Your Mandolin - starring Foxy (1931), Noah's Outing - starring Farmer Al Falfa (1932), In the Bag - starring Tom and Jerry (1932), Is My Palm Red - starring Betty Boop (1933), Funny Face - starring Flip the Frog (1933), The Mad Doctor - starring Mickey Mouse (1933), Jolly Good Felons - starring The Little King (1934), Jack Frost - Comi-Color Cartoon (1934 - colour), Rainbow Parade - starring The Merry Kittens (1935 - colour), The Beachcombers - starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (1936), To Spring - Happy Harmonies (1936 - colour), Porky's Railroad - starring Porky Pig (1937), and The Paneless Window Washer - starring Popeye (1937). Both discs will have extensive bonus material. Other classic animation releases coming from Mackinac will include Cultoons: Ads and Oddities on February 14th (14 cartoons including lost work by Cy Young, one of Walt Disney's special effects artists, animated commercials from Dr. Seuss, promotional shorts from Chad & Al Stahl and Hugh Harmon Productions, and Monkey Doodle by Les Elton, one of the strangest cartoons ever made!); Cartoons for Victory on February 14th (20 cartoons featuring cartoons from the First Motion Picture Unit, USN; five "Private Snafu" shorts [voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc]; Warner Brother's The Return of Mister Hook, in which Hook dreams about using his war bond savings to fulfill his postwar dreams; and many other American WWII cartoons), and Felix the Cat and Aesop's Fables both on April 11th. Finally, Mackinac will release Buster Keaton: Industrial Strength (2 discs) and Operation Manhunt (1954, with Harry Townes) on January 17th.

Lions Gate will have two double features of American International Pictures monster films. Coming on January 10th will be Earth Vs. the Spider/War of the Colossal Beast and Blood of Dracula/How to Make a Monster, all from the 1957 to 1958 period.

Paramount's 45th Anniversary Edition of Breakfast at Tiffany's, coming on February 7th, will feature an anamorphic widescreen presentation, an audio commentary with producer Richard Shepherd and four retrospective featurettes on the film, its lasting impact, and its beautiful star Audrey Hepburn. Otherwise, Paramount's new classic announcements are all TV series - Andy Griffith Show: Season 5 and Wild Wild West: 40th Anniversary Season 1 on February 14th, and Hogan's Heroes: Season 3 on March 7th. Perry Mason: Season One is also expected in 2006, although there is no specific release date set as yet. In other Paramount news, a new collector's edition of Stalag 17 (1953, directed by Billy Wilder) and a 50th anniversary edition (3 discs) of The Ten Commandments (1956) are planned for March 21st. Finally, the previously scheduled December 20th release of the Man in the Vault, Plunder of the Sun, Ring of Fear and Track of the Cat Collector Editions has been delayed indefinitely.

Now just available from ReelClassicDVD is The Great War and the Little Tramp. It contains America Goes Over (1927, the first officially released picture record of the U.S. part in World War I compiled by the War Department), Shoulder Arms (1918, Charlie Chaplin), The Bond (1918, aka Charlie Chaplin in a Liberty Loan Appeal), and The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918, animation by Winsor McKay). Also recently released by ReelClassicDVD is The Vicious Years (1950, with Tommy Cook).

Roan Group will have The Fighting Westerner [aka Rocky Mountain Mystery] (1935, with Randolph Scott) available on December 6th. In addition, Albert Schweitzer, the 1957 Oscar winning documentary narrated by Burgess Meredith, is now apparently available. Roan's release includes over 40 minutes of additional footage restored to the film.

Sony's Columbia arm will release Cisco Pike (1972, with Gene Hackman) on January 24th and The Rat Patrol: Season One on January 31st. Then on February 7th, we'll get a five disc Cary Grant Box Set that includes the previously unavailable Holiday (1938) along with the already released Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, Talk of the Town, and The Awful Truth. There's no word on whether Holiday will be available separately or on whether any of the other four will sport new transfers although only The Awful Truth and perhaps Talk of the Town really need one. There will be new bonus features on each disc and the set will include 10 collectible postcards with vintage photography. Meanwhile, the MGM arm has announced a new two-disc Collector's edition of The Magnificent Seven (1960) for January 10th. It will also finally release the previously-delayed Pink Panther films (The Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Revenge of the Pink Panther, Trail of the Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, Son of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther) and the 5-disc Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection on January 31st. Three volumes from the collection (Volume 1: Pranks in the Pink, Volume 2: Adventures in the Pink and Volume 3: Frolics in the Pink) will also be available separately then.

Universal will release new single-disc versions of Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, Shadow of a Doubt and Torn Curtain on February 7th. These will be the same newly-remastered editions that are currently available in Universal's Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection box set. Also coming on the same date is Emergency!: Season Two.

VCI has moved the release of Gorgo to November 29th and has also set January 17th as the date for the appearance of The Tall Texan (1953, with Lloyd Bridges), The Cowboy (1954, directed by Elmo Williams), The Oregon Trail (1939, with Johnny Mack Brown), and Flaming Frontiers (1938, with Johnny Mack Brown). The latter two are serials previously planned for a December 6th release.

Controversial Classics, Volume 2: The Power of Media will be released by Warner Bros. on February 28th. It will include two-disc SEs of three films: All the President's Men (1976), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Network (1976). The latter two will also be available separately on the same date while the former will appear separately on February 21st. All three titles will include anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras on Dog Day Afternoon will include audio commentary by director Sidney Lumet, the new 4-part The Making of Dog Day Afternoon documentary (featuring The Story, Casting the Controversy, Recreating the Facts and After the Filming), the vintage Lumet: Film Maker featurette and the film's theatrical trailer. Extras on Network will include commentary by director Sidney Lumet, along with the 6-part The Making of Network documentary (including The World and Words of Paddy Chayefsky, The Cast and the Characters, Mad As Hell! The Creation of a Movie Moment, The Experience and The Style Network by Walter Cronkite), a vintage interview with Paddy Chayefsky from the Dinah! show, Turner Classic Movies' Private Screenings featuring Sidney Lumet and the film's theatrical trailer. Extras on All the President's Men will include audio commentary by star Robert Redford (his first ever), 3 documentaries (Telling the Truth About Lies: The Making of All the President's Men, Out of the Shadows: The Man Who Was Deep Throat and Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire), the Pressure and the Press: The Making of All the President's Men vintage featurette, a vintage Jason Robards interview excerpt from Dinah! hosted by Dinah Shore, and an Alan J. Pakula thrillers trailer gallery. On March 28th, Warners will offer the Tennessee Williams Film Collection, which will include A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Baby Doll (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), and The Night of the Iguana (1964). Both A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are expected to be new special editions. In other Warner news, for those who may have missed it, Barbra Streisand: The Television Specials (1965-1973, 5 specials on 5 discs) was released on November 22nd.

Well, once again that's it for now. See you all again soon.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


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